“Diana.” Well known for her cold nature though she may be, there’s something especially arctic about the way Charlotte says that name. “What… is this all about?” A fair question. Based on the rules of the Royale, a person’s name is supposed to be removed from the drawing for the day once they’ve already had a match, challenge or not. So why is this happening? “A prank of some sort? A hack? I hope you didn’t let that win from earlier go to your-?”
“You know, for someone who’s supposed to be smarter’n everybody else, you’re seriously stupid,” Diana scoffs, for the briefest moment her gaze sweeping over the gathering crowd through the corner of her eye. “Why would I risk getting kicked outta the city over you?”
Wait. So this isn’t another challenge? The wheels in Mio’s head churn away, none of this adding up at all. But that doesn’t stop the automated voice of both alphas’ Links from chiming in with its usual ominously indifferent declaration. “Royale Combatants are within proximity. The match may now begin.”
Despite that, the match doesn’t begin. Not for seconds that feel like eons. Both girls seem more intent on simply glaring one another out of the match. Victory by intimidation. Yet, as this goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the only people intimidated are the onlookers.
Finally, Diana dips her head with an agitated sigh of “Whatever.” Pushing her long hair away from her covered eye, her intense gaze flattens out into an apathetic stare. “Bee.” Right on cue, her Familiar – the same little bee sprite from before – spawns itself into existence, hovering near her head. “Attack.” And attack it does, willing into existence a massive swarm of tiny bees, wordlessly commanding them to rush straight for Charlotte.
The ice-cold alpha doesn’t flinch. She barely reacts at all, except to let an unimpressed “Hmph,” slip through. Without a word, her Little Moth materializes before her, twirling in place and spinning a thick weave of silk. Enough to almost instantly erect a dome barrier, taking the assault from every angle. When Honey Bee’s swarm disperses, the dome comes down. There Charlotte stands with her arms still folded and that superior look across her face. “If you think the same trick will work on me that you used on that cheerleader of yours-.”
“Are you still talking? God, you love the sound of your own bark.” Diana remains unfazed. Or perhaps that’s unfair to say. Of Charlotte as well. The closer Mio watches the pair, the more evident it seems. Maybe those around her don’t notice, but what could easily be mistaken for pure contempt on both sides seems more like… intense focus.
What follows is an explosion of movement. A flurry of swarming bees, lunging with their stingers primed, clashing against walls of steel-hard silk, sparks flying amidst the screech of what sounds like metal scraping metal. All the while, Charlotte and Diana both bob and weave, each avoiding the attacks of the other. Whenever Diana gets snared by a line of Little Moth’s silk, Honey Bee is there to cut that tether. And whenever Charlotte finds herself pressured by Honey Bee’s swarm attacks, there appears Little Moth, shielding her with dense walls of silk.
As easy as it would be to get swept up in the spectacle along with the crowd, Mio can’t, her vision of the event made cloudy by a swirl of other thoughts. A feeling she can only describe as… “Wrong…” Hearing that little peep, Ragyou glances down to where Mio watches, turtling up. “This… is wrong, isn’t it?”
Ragyou returns her attention to the ongoing battle. “So you caught it too, right?” Mio tears her eyes away from the fight and looks up to the one clear image she has in all of this. “Yeah. Normally the System isn’t s’posed to be able to pick you for a match if ya already had one, that day. S’weird. Hmm. More like… it’s super scary if the rules can just change like that, y’know?” But then, putting that trademark grin of hers on, Ragyou drops her bag into her little partner’s hands with a thunk. “Hey. Hold onto that for me, would ya? I’ll brb!”
Back in the heat of the fight, Little Moth shields Charlotte from another swarm. But Diana dashes in close to Charlotte, tightening her drawn back hand into a fist. The two of them looking one another dead in the eye. “Hey, Charlotte. I’m gonna win now, all right? Don’t cry when you lose. I hate that. It’s seriously ugly.”
“Hot air,” Charlotte sighs. The instant Diana unwinds that punch, the gust on it blows the branches in the nearby trees. Yet Charlotte isn’t in its way. She’s already gone, landing gracefully on the end of a gliding motion. As if she’d somehow caught the air beneath her feet to carry her for one long, silent step. Diana turns around to correct her error, Honey Bee on the ready as Little Moth floats in to protect its master yet again.
Yet before either girl can make another move, one shout brings everything to a freeze. Even the roaring crowd. “STOOOOOP!” She appears between them suddenly. As if she’d teleported, taking both combatants off guard. With one manicured hand held up to each, Ragyou intervenes once again. “You two really don’t like each other, do ya? Ahahaha!”
Diana gapes. “R-Ragyou?!”
Charlotte sucks her teeth. “What are you doing? This is an official match. You could be hurt, you know.”
Ragyou cheeses at Charlotte with a nod. “Mhm! Totally! But watchin’ you two go at it, I got this killer idea! Whataya say you two join my alliance?!”
It takes a second to register with anyone, but when it finally clicks, it’s succeeded by the collective “EH?!” of the crowd, quite possibly heard throughout the city. In the middle of it all is an absolutely stunned Mio, the only person in that bunch not able to utter a single word. Just what is it that goes through that girl’s head?
Even Diana and Charlotte’s otherwise unshakable composure seems rocked by this mere suggestion. Such that the former struggles to regain it. “You… you’re joking, right?”
Charlotte coughs into her fist to shake off this stupor of hers. “This is ridiculous. We can’t just abandon our match in the middle of it, you know.”
But Ragyou cocks her head. “Hm? But you totally can, though!” Diana and Charlotte both balk, along with Mio in the nearby mob. Is that… really possible? “It’s right there in the rules! You can one-hundred percent ditch a match if ya decide to team up with the person you’re set up to go at it with! Easy as that!”
“Get real! You expect us to work together? I’d almost rather get kicked out.”
Ragyou lowers one hand to her hip, putting up a finger with the other. “Yeah? But only almost, right? You totally wanna stay, don’tcha?” Deny that, Diana can’t. And neither can Charlotte, for that matter, both girls simmering down at this simple statement of fact. “And Alliances have a bunch’a perks, right? You two are both mega strong. But what if ya run into someone tougher? It’s, like, strength in numbers and all that!”
The yammering of the crowd picks back up as the two queens of the First Years fall silent, no doubt thinking the whole thing over. So many voices, saying so many different things. And Mio hears them all. Some bemoan the idea of being deprived a final answer to the dispute between the pair. Others anticipate how unstoppable they’d be, on the same side, comparing it to the hero and the rival working together in some TV show. But one voice, in particular, stands out, suggesting that if these two teamed up, and Ragyou’s at least as tough as them, then the fourth person in their Alliance would have to be crazy strong too, right?
“Fine.” Charlotte folds her arms, returning to her typical, o’ so superior posture, Little Moth converting back into psychic energy and retreating into its host. “If it’s about the long game, then there’s no real denying the tactical advantage. I’ll agree to it.”
Diana huffs. “Yeah, whatever. It couldn’t hurt to try, I guess.”
“Awesome! So it’s settled! Then let’s go somewhere and get everything all sorted out! Ah…” In the midst of pushing the other two away, Ragyou pauses and looks to the crowd. “Sorry, ev’ryone! Guess I got in the way of your grudge match, but this is gonna be awesome too! Just wait!”
On the back of that declaration, Mio catches it. A wink meant for her. No doubt about it. Then, off Ragyou and the others go. The crowd disperses with time, leaving Mio alone on the path to the station, not really sure what on Earth just happened. “Well don’t you feel relieved?”
Kuro’s disembodied voice snickers in the back of her mind before the little black lizard materializes on the girl’s shoulder. “You just keep making powerful allies, don’t you? They can pick up the slack.”
“Yeah…” Then Mio’s Link chimes. Opening the interface, she finds a text from Ragyou.
“Micchin, come meet us in the courtyard!”
Such a lively girl, that one. But, nevertheless, Mio closes her interface and strolls off.
Eventually Mio arrives at the courtyard, where Ragyou sits at a table with Charlotte and Diana, the former of which waves and calls her over. “Miiicchiiiin!”
Charlotte and Diana, though, appear far less excited to see her. “Oi,” says the latter. “What’s the Extra doing here?”
Extra? Not even a side character?
Charlotte sits back in her chair. “Isn’t it obvious? The two of them have been around one another pretty often, lately. She’s the fourth member of this Alliance.”
Mio stands several feet away from the table, as if an invisible wall separates her from its occupants. “Um…” What does she even say, now? This aura of pure disappointment and contempt… it’s like hurricane-force winds, pushing her back and deafening her voice, sucking the air from her lungs for good measure.
But reaching out through the storm comes a hand that takes hers and pulls her out from under the clouds, into the sunny eye at the center. At the end of that hand, Ragyou beams at her. “What’re doin’ standin’ all the way over there, Micchin? C’mon!”
The girls take their seats and Ragyou opens up the agreement on her interface. “All right, so here goes! Just accept and we’re all good to go!”
When that’s over, both Charlotte and Diana’s Links turn from Red to Blue, the automated voice ringing out. “Both combatants have registered one another as allies. For this reason the ongoing match has been terminated. Have a nice day.”
“There. Done,” Diana says, turning away and resting her head against her hand.
Charlotte eyes the cheery Ragyou. “What are you giggling about?”
“Oh! It’s just kinda funny! Now that we’re all in a team, we’re kinda like a club, y’know? Hey, we should totally come up with a name!”
Charlotte and Diana both snap to her with a curt “What?” in unison, glancing to one another, then away, just as quickly.
“Ahaha! Hey, you’re on the same page for once!”
Mio ponders it, though. Naming. Again with the naming. “Well, we’re fighting to make sure we can all stay in the city and make it home at the end of the day, so…”
Ragyou jumps up from her seat, slamming her hands on the table and drawing every eye. “Got it! Then we’ll be the Going-Home Club!”
At that announcement, Diana groans. Charlotte rolls her eyes, turning away from this nonsense. “This is impossibly stupid.”
“All right! If there are no objections-!”
Diana stands, slamming her hands down on the table. “Like hell there aren’t!”
“Then it’s nice to have everyone! Diana, Charlotte…” Ragyou throws her arm around Mio, the little one taken off-guard yet again by her sunny companion, responding only with a blink. Then, flashing a peace sign and a toothy grin, she continues. “We’ll be in your care!”
One of the most engaging things to write in this series has been the dynamic between Diana and Charlotte. Their characters just have this presence about them that makes them fun to play with. Especially once you throw in a character as drastically different as Ragyou. But the most exciting thing, for me, is seeing what having all three of them around will do to/for Mio’s character. Most of the chapters, up to now, have been Mio observing things and just getting swept up in the current of the Royale like the passive nobody she was created to be. But I want to see exactly how being around these three dynamic personalities will cause Mio to behave, particularly as she learns more about and from them. It’s the exact reason I made the cast this way – surrounding such a nondescript individual with such overpowering personalities. I think it’ll be really fun to see what effect this has on her and expose a lot more emotions over time. Hope you’ll all look forward to it as much as I am!
Also, with that I bring the second arc to a close! What have you guys thought so far? Let me know, down below! Thanks for reading, of course!
Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Awesome!